Thursday, February 15, 2018

Suppressing the Female Apostle?

It’s probably fair to say that Junia has never been more popular. At least four books have been written about her in the last 20 years and she remains—I can’t help it—well known among those debating the role of women in the church.

The Junia Project website, for example, says, “Though widely accepted as a woman apostle throughout early Church history, in later translations an ‘s’ was added to the end of her name, making it into a masculine form, Junias. What was the reasoning behind this – was it a scribe’s mistake? Or could it have been something more political, like an attempt to deny that women could be apostles? We don’t know.”

In a recent blog post, Scot McKnight went further, claiming that Ἰουνιαν in Rom 16.7 was recovered as a female name only in the last quarter of the 20th century. He wrote:
Just in case you think an interpretation of Scripture can [sic] be wrong early and stay wrong for centuries, think about Romans 16:7 and the story of Junia. She was a woman whose name was changed to Junias because, so it was believed, the person was an apostle and an apostle can’t be a woman. So some males changed the woman into a man and, presto, we got a man named Junias. The problem is that there is no evidence for a male name “Junias” in the 1st Century. The deed was done, and that’s not our point: Junia remained Junias until, truth be told, the last quarter of the 20th Century when scholars realized the truth, admitted the mistaken history of interpretation, and acted on their convictions to restore the woman.

Knocking off non-existent males is no moral problem, and raising a woman from the dead is a good thing. Junia is now inscribed in the best translations.
After some back and forth with Scot, it turns out his first sentence got garbled by his editors and he’s now fixed it. (Yes, some blogs have editors.) (Update 12/4/19: I misunderstood Scot. He meant his InterVarsity editors and not his blog editors, which he does not have. It turns out that his paragraph on his blog was lifted from his foreword to Lucy Peppiatt’s book, which unknown to me, was already in press.)

The issue at hand, as you may know, is the accenting. If you provide the name with a circumflex (Ἰουνιᾶν) as in NA27 then the name is said to be the masculine Junias; apply an acute (Ἰουνιάν), however, as in NA28, and it’s the feminine Junias. And, presto, we have what looks like a patriarchal conspiracy on our hands. Or do we?

Yes, it’s true that Luther is the first major translator to use the masculine and it is true that some influential scholars in the 20th century also argued for a masculine and that the Nestle 13 through the NA27 printed the masculine. All this is well documented in Epp’s book. For Epp, cultural bias is the culprit. It was the “sociocultural environment, one imbued with a view of a limited role for women in the church” that “could influence some editors of the Greek New Testament in the mid-1990s” (p. 57). McKnight sees this as part of a much larger conspiracy by those he elsewhere calls “the silencers and erasers.”

I don’t doubt that this played a role for some. But how significant was this motive and how widespread? To the first question we might point out just how unique a woman apostle is in the New Testament. If Junia is one, she is the only one ever mentioned. The fact that she is said to be “outstanding” only makes it more surprising that she is never mentioned elsewhere, a point John Hunwicke makes in his lively review of Epp (discussed on the blog here). Was this a factor for some who thought she must be a man? It’s at least possible. (As for the perpetuation of the masculine form in the 20th century, I am reminded of Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.) Even granting gender bias, how common is the masculine form? The answer is not common at all when we consider the Greek tradition.

She is actually “Julia” in our earliest copy of Rom 16.7 (P46; so too in 6, 606, 1718, 2685, etc.; cf. Rom 16.15) and “Junia” in witnesses with accents (B2 D2 L Ψ 33 81 etc.). NA28 gives no witnesses with the masculine and this probably explains why the editors rightly fixed the accent. Nestle 13 set the accent wrong in the Nestle tradition. I checked my first edition and there is “Junia” where she had long been. Printed Greek New Testaments have pretty much all had the feminine until Eberhard Nestle took over his father’s edition. This includes Erasmus, Stephanus, Bezae, Elzevir, Mill, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort. Today she is again “Junia” in SBLGNT, NA28, RP2005, and THGNT.

Not surprisingly, then, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Matthew, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, Bishops’, and the KJV all have “Junia” and this seems to change only with the RV and RSV which have “Junias.” Others like the NASB, NIV1984, and NEB also have the masculine though with a note in the NEB. By the NRSV, we’re back to “Junia.” Translations like the NIV2011, ESV, and CSB have followed suit.

To be honest, I would be surprised if most English Bible readers today know that the name “Junia” is feminine and “Junias” is masculine. I didn’t until learning about the issue by way of Greek. As for the origin of the the male form, Epp points to Aedigius of Rome in the 13th century as the first. The next is Jacques LeFèvre d’Étaples in 1512 who seems to have influenced Luther. But as we’ve just seen, none of these authors, not even Luther, had any influence on this point in major Greek editions leading into the 20th century. They certainly had no influence on the Greek manuscripts where there remains no known example of the masculine form.

Whether or not a woman could be an apostle was clearly decided by Christians for centuries on grounds other than accenting. Chrystostom, for example, had no problem celebrating Junia the woman apostle and yet he did not allow for public women teachers (Homily on Romans 31; NPNF 11:554; it’s worth noting that Epp brings consistency to Paul’s view of women by rejecting 1 Cor 14.34–35 and 1 Timothy as Pauline.) Like Chrysostom, many other Christian writers knew Junia as the woman she was. The question was what kind of apostle she was and whether or not that made a difference to matters of ordination. That’s certainly the issue today (see David Shaw’s article here), but that’s not a topic for this blog.

The topic here is the temptation to overstate Junia’s demise. She was never changed into a man by any Greek scribe so far as we know. Even though some later interpreters did find a woman apostle unlikely or impossible, their influence seems to have been slight until the 20th century. It would be ironic if we erased Junia from the past in the very process of claiming to rescue her from it. Even a quick check of the relevant text-critical data shows that Junia has not been suppressed. But if she was, the 20th century is mainly to blame as the earlier examples remain outliers in their own time.


(5/2/18): Add another misreading of Epp’s work from Michael Peppard at Commonweal magazine who says
Why would so few of us know of a woman called “apostle” in first-century Rome? Junia was a victim of the Bible’s manuscript tradition, in which she was erased from existence by her transition to a man named “Junias.” ... Epp’s arguments require knowledge of ancient Greek, but in short, his book persuasively demonstrates that the best reading of the oldest manuscript tradition is the feminine name “Junia.” The masculine “Junias” was introduced at a later date by copyists, if not intentionally then perhaps unintentionally due to a subconscious bias that someone called “apostle” would also be a man. [Emphasis mine.]
7/23/18: Here’s another, from Kristen Padilla in her book Now That I’m Called (p. 98):
From the thirteenth century to the twentieth century, scholars and scribes regularly claimed Junia was a man because they could not accept the idea that a woman had been given the title of apostle. By simply changing an accent mark, they solved the problem, turning Junia (a woman’s name) into Junias (a man’s name). [emphasis mine]
12/4/19: Another, from Ally Kateusz in Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership (196 n. 3):
I follow Eldon Epp regarding that later scribes redacted the gender of Junia’s name, remaking it into the male gendered name, Junius, and thereby eliminating a female apostle; see Epp, Junia. [emphasis mine]

12/1/22: A bit of exaggeration from Scot McKnight (Reading Romans Backwards, 13):

... her name was changed in the course of church history to Junias becasue it was thought no woman could be an apostle, there was no such masculine name Junias, it took until the last quarter of the twentieth century for Junia to recover (fully) her female status in the church!


  1. Now I'm curious about the latter part of Romans 16:7.

    KJV: "...who are of note among the apostles..."
    NIV: "They are outstanding among the apostles..."
    ESV: "They are well known to the apostles..."
    CSB: "They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles..."

    Was Junia an apostle at all?

    1. In a 2015 JETS article, Michael Burer updated his and Dan Wallace’s original argument with more evidence that ἐπίσημοι + genitive = “well known as one among...” and that ἐπίσημοι + ἐν = “well known to...”

  2. Which is more plausible?

    Paul: You guys in Rome, greet Andronicus and Junia (there with you) who are fellow-Jews and also fellow prisoners. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, they're also famous apostles. Whoa! Hadn't you noticed? Silly me, I should have put them further up the list.


    Paul: You guys in Rome, greet Andronicus and Junia (there with you) who are fellow-Jews and also fellow prisoners, and also well regarded by the top dudes.

    1. Nice! I'm Tweeting that last translation, Peter!

    2. I assume that your point, Peter, is that Paul would have mentioned Andronicus and Junia higher up the list if they were prominent apostles. Against this, I would point out:
      1) They are high in the list (5th and 6th out of 28 individuals).
      2) There is no reason to suppose that Paul would have mentioned prominent apostles at the very start of his list. Paul is likely greeting so many people to emphasize that he has strong links with the church of Rome. He had not founded the church of Rome and knows that they will not automatically allow him to lecture them, but if he can establish that he has multiple links with their church, then they might be more inclined to take his letter to heart and help him on his way to Spain. Therefore, he may be listing the greeted according to the strength of his links with them. This would explain why Prisca and Aquila are first.
      3) Even if Andronicus and Junia were prominent among the apostles, we need not suppose that they were ranked with people like Paul and the 12, though they would have been more prominent than say, the apostle Epaphroditus.

      Perhaps your other point, Peter, is that it would be surprising for Paul to tell his audience that A and J were prominent among the apostles, because they would already have known. I don't think this is a strong argument. Firstly, A and J's missionary activity was probably in the east, given their early conversions, and Paul would know more about that then his audience. Secondly, even if Paul's audience knew of A and J's earlier prominent missionary work, they would not necessarily know that Paul acknowledge the importance of A and J's missionary work. Paul would still need to acknowledge their prominence, even if it was known to his audience, wouldn't he?

  3. I want to point out some potential irony of the 20th century ecclesiological debate around Junia. In most of the Fundamentalist complimentarian circles that I ghave been around (IFCA and attended Moody Bible Institute for my undergarudate) the apostolic ministry/ gift is believed to have ceased at the closing of the canon (or at the writing of Revelation... there is not 100% agreement). For their debate to be about the exegetical importance of the clause επιστημοι εν τοις αποστοοις makes little sense. Is it really important to these complimentarians as to whether or not an apostle was female? Simple study says that apostles, deacons, and pastors are all very different, so to bring in depth study of a clause into their debate makes little sense to me. Now, for those who do not hold to the cessation of the apostolic gift/ ministry (an optimal theology based upon Eph. 4:9-16), it does make a lot of significance.

    But as you stated in this blog, it is beyond the purview of this post to discuss the exegetical processes behind complimentarian and egalitarian ecclesiology. Thanks for the post! This is most intriguing to know more about the textual history behind this text!

    1. Doesn’t everyone agree that the apostolic office—which requires seeing the resurrected Christ (Acts 1.22)—has ended? I think the argument with Junia is one from the lesser to the greater: if a woman could be an apostle, how much more could she be a pastor? But yes, a topic for another blog.

    2. Um, no. There are quite a few schools of thought on the issue.
      Alan Hirsch is one I've heard speak on the issue.

    3. The is a "translation" being done of Scripture by Brian Simmons. He is part of the New Apostalic Reformation, which has apostles. There is also a movement amongst church planters that an apostle is more of the planting "lead" missionary. If you look at the House of Prayer and other Pentecostal movements, apostle is a common designation.

      That being said, yes, it is usually a greater to lesser argument :)

  4. Another aspect of the general question is, is "apostles" meant in this verse to refer to *the* apostles, or in a general sense of people who were sent out by congregations to spread the gospel?

  5. Peter - Thanks for this. Very engaging. It obviously omits the larger issue of what is meant by "apostle" in the passage. You (and presumably Scot McKnight) will want to read Al Wolters' excellent (and neglected) article: "ΙΟΥΝΙΑΝ (Rom 16:7) and the Hebrew Name Yĕḥunnı̂" JBL 127:2 (2008): 397-408.

    1. Thanks, Michael. I actually hadn’t seen Wolter’s article until writing this up. But I’m reading it now. It's online here for those interested.

    2. Even Wolters agrees that Junia was probably a woman. I pushed back against the Yĕḥunnı̂ idea here, and I posted Wolters' response here. In short, Yĕḥunnı̂ is very unlikely to be the name because:
      1) It is a rare name.
      2) A Yĕḥunnı̂ who moved to Rome would probably have taken a Greek or Latin name and Paul would probably have used it.

      It is true that there were few women apostles, but this may simply be because it would be dangerous and scandalous for women to travel, except in the company of male members of their households. I see no reason why a woman could not have been half of a married missionary couple.

    3. RF,
      Is there really pushback against ‘a woman being half of a married missionary couple’?
      Priscilla and Aquila seem to settle that. Even if one accepts well-known, this doesn’t preclude and seems to argue for the missionary idea.

  6. The point is that, whatever Junia's relation to the apostles, fifteen straight editions of the text received by all seminarians called him a man. Back in the early 80's Ruth A. Tucker let slip to her classes the possibility of Junia's womanhood, but she couldn't singlehandedly overthrow the consensus of scholarly opinion regarding the Original Greek. Her books, and those of biblical scholars, did gradually overthrew that consensus, to the point that by the middle of the first decade of this century all the major English versions had been revised to make Junia a woman. Then, finally, one could even say anticlimactically, in 2012 the Greek textbase followed suit with NA28/UBS5 and every GNT to come recognizing that ιουλιαν was an accusative case first declension proper noun.
    It was a case of using the English to correct the Greek.

    1. Nestle had it wrong, yes. But how many know the difference from the accent alone? What I see is a period of 51 years in which GNTs printed the masculine. Per Epp, more than half (18 of 32) of those still had a note marking the feminine. Every other period has the feminine exclusively. 1900 years vs. 50. The “consensus,” if there is one, is pretty clear.

    2. In the KJV, it's Junia. And, how does "of note among the apostles" mean more than that Junia was known to apostles other than Paul? I wasalso taught that an apostle was someone who was a witness to the resurrection, with Paul being made one outside the proper time.

    3. Kepha,

      It doesn't necessarily. To be quite honest, neither question; that of gender or apostleship can be definitively answered. It would appear that those who insist otherwise may have an agenda to push.

      The apostolic mandate that you mentioned is specifically reserved for "the twelve", including the replacement of Judas (i.e. Matthias in Acts ch.1). There is nowhere in the Scriptures where it states that the apostolic office is temporary, thus many apostles came after the twelve (including Paul).

  7. Do we not have evidence of an attempt to make Junia into a man in the second century? As you mentioned, Peter, Rom 16:7 in P46 has Ιουλιαν instead of Ιουνιαν. At 16:15 its exemplar had Ιουλιαν και την αδελφην αυτου (Julias and his brother). Someone behind P46 had reversed the names Julia and Nereus to make the claim that Ιουλιαν was Paul's way of writing a man's name (Julius) (thus making Junia into a man). Why else would the names get switched? Random name reversals are very rare or completely absent from the early manuscripts of the NT. The best parallel is probably the switching of Prisca and Aquila at Acts 18:26 in D, and it is not hard to figure out why that was done.

    Junia is spared from textual disruption in most other manuscripts, but this may be because the name was very rare in the east in the second century and therefore interpreters could have just taken the name to be male, without knowing otherwise.

  8. Hello Gurry, you've missed a piece of scholarship. You say it is surprising that Joanna is not mentioned elsewhere if she is "prominent among the apostles". But this is also true if the male name is correct. In any case, Bauckham argues that Junia is mentioned - i.e. that she is the same as Joanna the wife of Chuz mentioned in the Gospels, primarily in Luke 8:1-3 and the accounts of the women finding the empty tomb. He argues this in his book Gospel Women.

  9. On my blog there are some new arguments in support of Bauckham's Junia-Joanna identification. Here.

    No one here has mentioned that Epiphanius (or a successor) described both Junia and Prisca as male. Indeed, in a forthcoming article in CBQ I argue that early copyists corrupted their texts to support their assumption that Junia and Prisca were male.